ACS Vesuvius Evo Leva review

by Claudio Santoro, Simone Forgia
ACS Vesuvius Evo Leva

After decades in which new models of pump coffee machines have followed one another almost exclusively, in recent times many companies on the international territory have started to reconsider the production of lever machines both of the direct and spring type, for professional and domestic use. The strengths of lever machines with professional groupheads are undoubtedly the better thermal stability, greater repeatability between the various extractions, greater speed in delivering several coffees in a row, all at the expense, however, of considerably longer heating times, larger dimensions and more expensive maintenance costs. Conversely, domestic lever machines undoubtedly offer less thermal stability of the grouphead but also a shorter initial heating time, smaller size and lower maintenance costs. All this, however, begins to waver from the moment the new machine produced by Advanced Coffee Solution (ACS) model "Vesuvius Evo Leva" appears on the market with professional group and performance, but very fast heating times and dimensions that are not very small but not exaggerated either.

ACS is an Italian company that belongs to M & V s.r.l., a brand that has been active for generations in the field of food machinery and has also been producing professional espresso machines for about 10 years. In the model we received for this review, what immediately stands out at first glance is the imposing lever on a group similar to the San Marco one, with a filter size of 54 mm and the two side wands, respectively one for steam and the other for hot water. The lever system is also supported by a pump for the pre-infusion and three PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) controls: one for the grouphead, one for the brewing boiler and another for the steam boiler. Astonishing is the speed with which the Vesuvius once turned on becomes ready for use, only 8 minutes for the water and steam boiler to reach temperature, 15 minutes for the grouphead. With these times, the ACS is certainly well suited to be used in a domestic environment in which it is usually necessary a machine to be switched on at the moment of use, without necessarily having to keep it on all day with the consequent electricity consumption. In this regard, an interesting peculiarity of this model is also represented by the possibility to keep the steam boiler, the brewing water boiler and the group heating element switched off independently and at will. It is useless, for example, to turn on the appliance by heating both the brewing and steam boiler if you only intend to make espressos and not cappuccinos. In the case where it is necessary to froth milk, however, we can tell that the power of the steam wand is considerable and the advantage of having a boiler dedicated to it allows the pressure to be adjusted at will, representing a great strength. 

For the most demanding users, the machine is also equipped with a timer that allows to set the switch-on and switch-off times independently and specifically for each day of the week in a simple and intuitive way. By using this feature, it is therefore possible to wake up in the morning and find the machine already hot and with the lukewarm cups on the top.

Among the first things we wanted to check as soon as we received the Vesuvius Evo Leva, there was the possible bending of the front panel when lowering the lever. In fact, rumours on the web claimed that the panel flexed a bit too much. After several tests we have observed that the front panel flexes slightly when the lever is lowered, but nothing too accentuated. Talking to Paolo Cortese, our referent at ACS, we were told that the panel had been adequately reinforced after the test phases.

Looking at the machine from the front, on the left side is hidden a convenient panel to access the 3-litre water tank. The tank can be filled while the machine is running, making it very versatile but, on the other hand, the position of the main power switch is not much so as it is located right next to the tank, and there is therefore the risk of it catching some water if attention is not taken when filling the tank. Certainly, the use of a funnel makes things quicker and safer.

Learning how to use the ACS took few days, as did finding the right parameters for extracting very different coffees, from dark roasts to very light ones of single origins. During the extraction phase, the water coming from the boiler and directed towards the grouphead undergoes a sharp drop in temperature; for this reason, the manufacturer recommends setting the temperatures of the grouphead and the brewing boiler with a deviation of approximately 8-9°C. This means, for example, setting the temperature of the group to 89°C and the water temperature to 98°C. In this way, it is possible to compensate for the drop in temperature of the water as it arrives in the grouphead. After getting to know the machine a little, to extract medium-light roasts we found very practical to intervene only on the group temperature to adapt it to the beans in use, leaving the water temperature unchanged. So for instance, we obtained excellent results by keeping at 98°C the water temperature and 91.5°C that of the group, but these parameters clearly vary depending on the coffee used.

Interesting is the possibility of the Vesuvius Evo Leva to be connected to the water line, but it should be noted that even in this case, the pre-infusion is always done by the pump. The water coming from the water line in fact, simply fills the tank we talked about earlier.

On the other hand, one of the beauties of this grouphead is that, by having a piston that runs inside a "sleeve" without grooves, it allows the life of the seals to be extended considerably, thus making the need for routine maintenance less frequent. In most other groupheads on the contrary, the piston must physically be brought above a hole in order to allow the water to enter the pre-infusion chamber, and therefore there is increased wear of the piston seals in that point. In this case there is instead a cam used to open the water flow.

La San Marco grouphead cam that activates the pump

Photo of the cam that activates the pump

Trying to describe the functioning of this system in a few words, we can say that when lowering the lever, the cam is pushed, which in turn activates the pump for the pre-infusion; when we then release the lever and let it rise, the cam deactivates the pump and the two springs in the group push the piston that is responsible for the actual extraction of the drink. It should therefore not worry if, especially when the group is heating up, there are very small leaks of water from the shower screen, it may represent a slight annoyance but it is a prerogative of this type of system defined as "open chamber".

The pre-infusion pressure is factory-set at 1.5 bar, but this can be changed as desired by turning the screw of the pressurestat located inside the upper part of the machine. In all honesty, if one doesn’t have to brew many coffees in a row, we have found much more practical to change the pre-infusion pressure "on the fly" by operating directly on the lever (holding it) and observing the pressure variations on the pressure gauge present on the grouphead. Once the seconds of pre-infusion had elapsed, it is enough to gently let go the lever to start the actual extraction phase, which reaches up to 10 bar of peak pressure. Nevertheless, the ability to adjust the pump pressure is certainly convenient.

What struck us negatively about this pump is its noise, perceptible during the pre-infusion phase. We would have preferred a pump that was a little quieter or perhaps better soundproofed, as we measured it to reach a noise level of 66 dB. Another thing that left us perplexed was a bending of the frame on the base, as the body is supported by four feet, two on the back and two on the front under the drip tray, but the latter is only connected to the rest of the machine with simple brackets that are subjected to the 47 kg of the unit and have consequently bent as can be seen from the picture below.

ACS Vesuvius Evo Leva seen sideways with the curvature of the base

ACS Vesuvius Evo Leva seen sideways with the curvature of the base

We reported this to ACS who also did not expect such a phenomenon to happen, but they reassured us by saying that modifications had already been made to the brackets responsible for the bending towards the end of that batch.

The drip tray can be connected to a drain so that it never has to be removed and emptied, it is a good size but we would have liked to see some sort of locking system. To remove it you actually just have to pull it forward and, in a house where there may be children, this small lack could be annoying.

As for the grid instead, we would have preferred it to be a perforated metal sheet in order to facilitate the use of a scale because sometimes the feet do not rest well on the thin grid and this affects the operation of the device.

In general, however, the sensations when using the machine are good and during the various extractions made, the quality of the espresso has proven to be really good. The size of the 54 mm filter allows ample margin of play between dose and coarseness of the ground coffee without, however, compromising too much the depth of the puck as can happen with filters of larger diameter. This feature is certainly very useful, especially when using light roasts.

Trying to make several extractions in a row, we have noticed that the temperature of the group remains incredibly stable while some fluctuations are recorded on that of the brewing water. Playing with the PID parameters, we found a configuration that guaranteed these temperature variations on five sample extractions as shown in the following table.

Temperature chart of five extractions in a row made on the ACS Vesuvius Evo Leva

Temperature chart of five extractions in a row

The extractions were carried out one after the other in the classic sequence of (dry) filter cleaning, beans weighing, grinding, distribution and tamping in the filter. By making further measurements and tests with other settings as well, we found that after making an extraction the water temperature rose on average by 3°C and the time required to return it to exactly the initial value is about 6 minutes.

It should be noted, however, that the influence on the quality of the extraction is not as much affected by this increase in water temperature as it would have been if the increase of this value concerned the grouphead, which, as already mentioned, remains extraordinarily stable.

Other details that we have instead not particularly appreciated are, for example, the sticker on the bottom left of the front panel with the writing ACS which conveys a feeling of cheapness that certainly does not confer prestige to the brand and is also located in a place subject to splashes and therefore complicates cleaning. In addition, we were mistakenly supplied with the bottomless portafilter of another model, as a result of which it could only be inserted a couple of centimetres into the group (this is not the case with the appropriate portafilter). 

Finally, there is a generous supply of accessories in the box: a tamper, a portafilter with a single spout and single filter, a portafilter with a double spout and double filter, a bottomless portafilter with double filter, two steam wand heads (one with three holes and one with two holes), two different types of feet, a professional microfibre cloth, a shower screen cleaning brush, some gaskets and other small spare parts.

In our opinion, the biggest flaw among the accessories is the included coffee tamper which, although functional, we would have preferred it not to have been made of aluminium. In fact, once the coffee puck has been pressed, it is almost impossible to obtain a completely smooth surface as some powder remains attached to the aluminium and the diameter of the base is about a millimetre smaller than the filter.

Another observation concerns the touch display: it is very intuitive and well readable, but sometimes there was less touch sensitivity on the right side. ACS also offers the possibility to buy a complete set of wooden handles and knobs that certainly give a warmer overall look; we would only have preferred that the handles of the portafilter and lever were the same (as in the standard black version) and not different in shape. The same applies to the front feet that are different from the rear ones, probably a matter of personal taste.

The Vesuvius Evo Leva has therefore proved to be a very versatile machine, simple enough to be used even by a non-expert barista, but which at the same time offers a customisable range of uses to satisfy even the most demanding speciality coffee enthusiast. Given the very promising features on paper such as the very short heating times, independent PIDs for the group and the two boilers, configurable pump for the pre-infusion, low maintenance requirements and precise temperature control, expectations were high and from our experience we can only confirm their truthfulness. Some aspects such as the unevenly sensitive touch display, the somewhat noisy pump and complications regarding materials have, however, affected the light-heartedness use of a product designed to last for many years.

What ACS has realised is therefore a machine that fulfils all its promises on a technical level but still needs to be refined in terms of attention to detail and user experience. All in all, we have enjoyed using it and its high but at the same time attractive price for all the features it offers certainly places it among the most appetising products on the market in 2021.

Extraction made on the ACS Vesuvius Evo Leva with the bottomless portafilter and a peak pressure between 9 and 10 bars

Extraction with the bottomless portafilter and a peak pressure between 9 and 10 bars